Chemin de la Mâture – Etsaut, France - Atlas Obscura

Chemin de la Mâture

Etsaut, France

This narrow path was cut right into a French mountainside to feed the country's early naval expansion. 


Carved right into a French mountainside, the Chemin de la Mâture was created as a brute force solution to Louis XIV’s lack of usable naval lumber. 

During his reign one of King Louis XIV’s largest projects was to create a powerful navy for France. Louis XIV got to work building ships from wood harvested from the nearby Pyrenees and then floated to the coast along natural river currents. Quickly the king’s military ambition outstripped nature’s ability to provide lumber, so the monarch was forced to look farther afield for his materials.

He found a new wood source in the nearby Pacq forest which was lush, but inconveniently located beyond a difficult ravine known as the “Gorge of Hell.” Even a hellish gorge couldn’t keep the king from his naval dreams.

The solution his engineers devised was to cut a path straight across one of the mountainsides that would allow the wood to bypass the gorge completely. Thus the Chemin de la Mâture was born. Finished in 1772, long after Louis’ demise, the narrow path was chiseled over 600 feet above the forest floor and runs almost 4,000 feet across the rock. In English, “The Mast Road” allowed thick logs which would become masts to be transported via mule cart to the shipyards. 

Today the path is still accessible as a hiking path. While it is no longer used as an industrial road, the Chemin de la Mâture is still one of the most scenic paths to the French coast.   

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